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“Micro-needle” would spare patients the sting

Jan. 7, 2008
Courtesy Blackwell Publishing
and World Science staff

A new type of nee­dle made partly of ce­ram­ic may one day take the pain out of in­jec­tions and blood draws, a team of re­search­ers claims.

The sci­en­tists, at the Un­ivers­ity of North Car­o­li­na and La­ser Zen­t­rum Han­no­ver in Ger­ma­ny, said they cre­at­ed hol­low nee­dles so fi­ne, pa­tients would­n’t feel them pierc­ing the skin. Clus­tered to­geth­er on a patch, these “mi­cro­nee­dles” can in­ject drugs or draw blood as ef­fi­ciently as or­di­nary hy­po­der­mic nee­dles, ac­cord­ing to the group.

Could the stand­ard hy­po­der­mic nee­dle be­come a thing of the past? Re­search­ers say a nee­dle made part­ly of ce­ram­ic could be so small, you would­n't feel it. (Pho­to cour­te­sy Lou­is­ville, Ky. Health Dept.)


Bi­o­med­i­cal en­gi­neers have long been seek­ing ways to in­ject drugs with less pain, and even with­out the necess­ity for med­i­cal ex­pert­ise, ac­cord­ing to the team, led by the un­ivers­ity’s Rog­er Na­ra­yan. 

Un­til re­cent­ly, the group added, the most prom­is­ing prod­uct had been stain­less steel and ti­ta­ni­um mi­cro­nee­dles; but these tend to break against the skin. 

Narayan’s team used hy­brid ma­te­ri­als con­sist­ing of ce­ram­ic and or­gan­ic molecules, known as or­gan­ic­ally mod­i­fied ce­ram­ics or “Or­mo­cers,” and built the nee­dles us­ing a pro­cess known as 2-photon pol­y­mer­iz­a­tion.

The re­sult was “micronee­dles re­sist­ant to break­age,” the team said in an an­nounce­ment of their find­ings this week. Al­so, “they can be made in a wid­er range of sizes than those made with con­ven­tion­al” tech­niques.

The first pa­tients Na­ra­yan en­vi­sions will ben­e­fit are those who need fre­quent in­jec­tions or blood mon­i­tor­ing. 

Micronee­dles could be in­te­grat­ed in­to sys­tems con­tain­ing ti­ny pumps and sen­sors for “sam­pling of blood, anal­y­sis, and drug-delivery ca­pa­bil­i­ties for treat­ment of chron­ic dis­ease,” he said. For ex­am­ple, he sug­gested, di­a­be­tes pa­tients could have their sug­ar lev­els tested us­ing one un­it con­sist­ing of nee­dle, pump and sen­sor; mean­while, they could re­ceive con­trolled in­su­lin in­jec­tions from a sec­ond de­vice con­sist­ing of nee­dle, pump and drug-delivery un­it.

The re­search ap­pears in the Jan­u­ary is­sue of the In­terna­t­ional Jour­nal of Ap­plied Ce­ram­ic Tech­nol­o­gy.


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A new sort of needle made partly of ceramic may one day take the pain out of injections and blood draws, a team of researchers said. The scientists, at the University of North Carolina and Laser Zentrum Hannover in Germany, said they created hollow needles so fine, patients wouldn’t feel them piercing the skin. Clustered together on a patch, these “microneedles” can inject drugs or draw blood as efficiently as ordinary hypodermic needles, according to the group. Biomedical engineers have long been seeking ways to inject drugs with less pain, and even without the necessity for medical expertise, according to the team, led by the university’s Roger Narayan. Until recently, the group added, the most promising product had been stainless steel and titanium microneedles; but these tend to break against the skin. Narayan’s team used hybrid materials consisting of ceramic and organic molecules, known as organically modified ceramics or “Ormocers,” and built the tiny needles using a process known as 2-photon polymerization. The result was “microneedles resistant to breakage,” the team said in an announcement of their findings this week. Also, “they can be made in a wider range of sizes than those made with conventional” techniques. The first patients Narayan envisions will benefit are those who need frequent injections or blood monitoring. Microneedles could be integrated into systems containing tiny pumps and sensors for “sampling of blood, analysis, and drug-delivery capabilities for treatment of chronic disease,” he said. For example, he suggested, diabetes patients could have their sugar levels tested using one unit consisting of needle, pump and sensor; meanwhile, they could receive controlled insulin injections from a second device consisting of needle, pump and drug-delivery unit. The research appears in the January issue of the International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology.